UFC and The Hobby

History of UFC on Wax

Date: Jan 31, 2024
Topics: History, How To Collect, UFC
Length: 1198 Words
Reading Time: ~6 Minutes

IT’SSSS (Finally) TIMEEE!

With all the excitement surrounding the announcement of the UFC returning to Topps, RIPPED decided it was time to sketch the history of outrageous, octagonal action on wax.

Check out the history below and get ready to collect the most electric cards in combat sports.

Squaring Up is Fundamental

Two opponents going toe-to-toe with their dukes up — it’s a sporting tradition that dates back to the age of empires.

Boxing was popular in Greece (it appeared in the ancient Olympic Games in 688 BC) and Rome (fights were held in amphitheaters and attracted large crowds of spectators). Even some modern martial arts styles, like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, have about 100 years of history.  

Combat sports have evolved a great deal in the past few decades, but the essence of the game has been the same for thousands of years — two fighters enter, and one leaves victorious.

Today, the most popular combat sport is mixed martial arts (MMA), and the most popular MMA promotion is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Here, we’ll explore the trading card history behind one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

UFC Early History

The UFC was only created in 1993, making it a baby by American sporting standards. It was founded by a group of men led by California entrepreneur Art Davie; the promotion’s first event was a single-elimination, bracket-style tournament featuring eight fighters. That event might not resemble the pay-per-views of today. Still, a few hallmarks of the UFC were established: the matchups of fighters with different styles and specialties and the signature octagon ring.  

But just because the UFC has only 30 years of history doesn’t mean it’s inferior to its peers in terms of popularity. The UFC is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that holds landmark events around the globe — in 2024, the promotion has dates booked in Toronto, Mexico City, and Saudi Arabia. The UFC has more Instagram followers than the MLB, NFL, NHL, and MLS. Its current CEO and president, Dana White, is one of the more influential men in sports. 

Unlike the other most popular American sports, though, we don’t have a card history that dates back to the 20th century. The UFC was founded at the tail end of the Junk Wax Era, but its first cards didn’t come around for about a decade after the promotion was established.

2006 Topps Allen & Ginter #310 Randy Couture

With no exclusive licensing deal, MMA fighters (including those in the UFC) occasionally appeared in multi-sport or non-sport card sets from a handful of brands. That includes Topps Allen & Ginter, which created a card for UFC pioneer Randy Couture in 2006. Also in the late 2000s, Donruss created a card set called Americana that featured a few fighters, like Houston Alexander and Cung Le, included in an insert titled Ring Kings. Americana was mostly a non-sports set — many of the individuals highlighted were actors, like Burt Reynolds or John Travolta, with a few popular athletes mixed in.

A selection of 2008 Donruss Americana II Ring Kings featuring UFC fighters

Topps and UFC Cards

In October 2008, Topps acquired the exclusive license for UFC cards and became the first company to produce dedicated MMA sets. Its first release came a few months after inking the licensing deal in 2009.

One of Topps’ most well-received annual releases under the MMA umbrella was Topps UFC Knockout, which consistently brought the heat with rare parallels and autos. In particular, 2014 Topps UFC Knockout is highly regarded for its rookie class, including UFC Hall-of-Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov (more on him and some other UFC legends below).  

Cards from 2014 Topps UFC Knockout

 

A few of Topps’ other UFC product lines include Topps Chrome® UFC, a premium product printed on high-quality chromium, and Topps UFC Museum, which focused on legends and veterans (though there were a few rookies in the sets, as well).  

Meet the Top Fighters in Previous Topps UFC Sets

If you’re interested in collecting the most popular fighters, here are several who demand your attention, along with their most eye-popping cards. 

2014 Topps UFC Knockout Khabib Nurmagomedov Auto 1/1

Khabib Nurmagomedov

We promised we’d get back to Khabib. “The Eagle,” who wrapped up a legendary undefeated career in 2020, is often regarded as the best lightweight fighter of all time (and put himself firmly in the debate for best pound-for-pound fighter ever).

Khabib’s autographed rookie from that 2014 Knockout line is the most expensive UFC card purchase in history; a buyer paid just under $80,000 for a super-rare 1/1 parallel.

2013 Topps UFC Bloodlines #63 Amanda Nunes Flag /188

Amanda Nunes

Not many athletes can say they retired at the top of their game, but Amanda Nunes held two belts and was the top seed in UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings when she stepped away from the UFC in the summer of 2023. As a Bantamweight and Featherweight champ, Nunes was the UFC’s first two-division women’s champ.

Nunes’ rookie appears in 2013 Topps UFC Bloodlines; there aren’t a ton of copies available for purchase, but an interested buyer could snag a Flag parallel /188 for about $2,300. 

2017 Topps UFC Chrome #97 Conor McGregor Superfractor 1/1

Conor McGregor  

Of course, no discussion of the UFC is complete without mentioning the infamous Irishman. McGregor attracted his fair share of controversy, but no other fighter could attract attention and sell pay-per-view buys like he did. McGregor’s title bout with Khabib at UFC 229 in 2018 remains the record-holder for the biggest mixed martial arts PPV event, drawing nearly 2.5 million buys.

Between the two, McGregor and Khabib comprise the top five most expensive UFC card sales in history, and they have seven of the top 10. McGregor’s top card, a 1/1 Superfractor from 2017 Topps Chrome UFC, was sold for over $73,000.

2017 Topps Chrome UFC Ronda Rouse Fighter Auto Variations Superfractor 1/1

Ronda Rousey

A groundbreaker as a participant in the first female UFC fight, Rousey put together an astonishing career to earn her 2018 induction as the first woman in the UFC Hall of Fame. At the time of her retirement, Rousey held the record for six consecutive UFC title defenses in the women’s division. She also has something that no one else on this elite list has: an Olympic medal, which she earned in judo at Beijing 2008. 

Rousey’s 1/1 2017 Topps Chrome UFC Superfractor auto was sold in 2022 for just under $4,000.  

2017 Topps Chrome UFC #83 Valentina Shevchenko Gold Refractor RC /50

Valentina Shevchenko

Rousey retired with the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses by a woman; Shevchenko is why that record is no longer hers. An elite counter-striker, Shevchenko has put together a dominant career, and she’s still at the top of her game more than 20 years after her professional debut.  

In her last bout, Shevchenko fought UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion Alexa Grasso to a controversial draw, with many believing Shevchenko earned the victory; shortly after the fight, Dana White said to expect a rematch.

Shevchenko’s rookie is the card to collect, and her 2017 Topps Chrome UFC RC is one to target. Her gold parallel /50 can be had for just over $4,000.


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